Meet your new little green friend
If there is one single piece of equipment that has absolutely revolutionized language learning, it’s mobile computers. Whether we’re talking about smartphones or tablets, they have become a true all-in-one tool for your immersion needs. My favorite mobile operating just so happens to be Google Android, and today I’ll be showing you how a single Android device can be all you need to create a Japanese immersion environment anywhere.
O HAI! I will make you awesome at Japanese.
Now don’t get me wrong, in my Japanese action pack I have paper books, a DS, and those sorts of things too, but there’s something appealing about the idea of a single device that fits in my pocket being able to provide me everything I need for my immersion environment. So with that in mind, I’ll be showing you how you can get your Android device fully equipped with comics, music, audio, video, articles, stories, SRSing, and even games in Japanese.
They have the Internet on computers now?
What should you have on your device?
The Android Market has a huge library of software available, with no shortage of great tools to help you with your Japanese. Here are some free, must-have applications for your mobile device. (Click on the title to view it on the Market. You can actually install them on your device remotely from your PC!)
I have the POWER... of native Japanese media.
AnkiDroid – One program that should need to introduction–fully supported on Android! You can easily sync with your decks with the push of a button, taking them with you wherever you go! The VAST majority of my SRS reps are done on a mobile device. Laying down, lunch time at work, waiting in line–anywhere. Having this tool as a mobile app is worth the price of a device 3 times over! You seriously won’t know how you lived without it before. By sure to also install Aedict, Japanese dictionary that can actually integrate with Anki.
QQPlayer - Video player compatible with many formats, and very mobile friendly. I would recommend using Miro Video Converter on your PC to convert the files first to ensure smooth playback. You can actually select formats that are specifically friendly to Android. Amazingly there is little to no quality loss, but for whatever reason doing the conversion greatly improves playback.
Google Reader – To subscribe to Japanese RSS feeds such as the ever-entertaining maru, or to catch up on your favorite blogs with great Japanese learning tips…
Aldiko – Simply the best eReader application for Android, supports epub, doc, pdf to name a few (and supports Japanese text too of course). The great thing about eReaders is how it just keeps your place automatically. Just load up the app and in half a second you’ve got an electronic book, opened right where you left off. This app is highly customizable for things like background color, fonts, and even separately controlled brightness. It makes reading in any language a thing of pure convenience. I like getting familiar with traditional stories, if you’re looking for an easy place to get started. (It’s amazing how often other media references these tales!) There are many good places to find stories, and Aldiko is quite good at adapting to whatever format you import, so give it a try!
Droid Comic Viewer – Excellent comic viewer for Android! There are actually some legitimate sources for getting comics, or you can take a plunge and create your own scans.
Hotmix Radio/JapanFM - A France based streaming radio service that among many genres, just so happens to have an all-Japanese station AND an Android app to tune in. It’s a great way to discover new bands, to just easily tune into non-stop music, this is a must for your device. Just be careful if you’re using this over your mobile network as it can add up to a massive bill. Probably best to only use it on wifi!
Songbird/Stock music player – For the most part, whatever your built-in audio player is should be just fine. Music is of course one of the obvious choices for audio on your device. There are many ways to discover great new bands, such as tuning in to JapanFM, or looking up similar artists with a service like LastFM.
Something else I’ve been successful with is mixing in audio rips from drama and anime in with the music. It actually ends up feeling like listening to a radio station, going back and forth between music and dialogue. First, rip the audio to mp3 with a program like Free Video to MP3 converter, then split the files into a length of your choice (I’d recommend 2-5 minutes) with a program such as Slice Audio File Splitter. If you’re noticing a big volume difference between the music and the ripped audio try this: Copy all the files to your device, and then put them all through MP3 Gain. What this does is lowers or increases the volume of all your audio to make them the same. The help file is actually very helpful when it comes to explaining how to do it correctly! I would recommend only doing this to the copies on your device, rather than the originals since the change is permanent.
Games - Suffice to say there are games in Japanese on Android, especially if you can set your device’s language to Japanese. (For example, my tablet supports many languages including Japanese, but many phones here in Canada only support English, French and often Chinese.) It’s the sort of thing that’s very much left to personal taste, so feel free to explore the market on this one!
Which device is for me?
There are certainly many choices for devices, especially when it comes to size and connectivity! Handhelds, small tablets, big tablets, wifi, mobile networks, oh my! There are certainly ups and downs to each combination. Having tried a few, let me give you comparisons!
This little guy is waiting for you, but on which device!?
Handheld – For Android (unlike with say, the iPod), handheld usually means a smartphone. Let me tell you, the convenience of having an always available Internet connection quickly becomes a must. The only downside is the bill of course! This size is certainly more discreet than a tablet, especially for things like using Anki while waiting in line and so on. Having something that can literally fit in your pocket makes it a true bring-everywhere device.
Small (~7″) tablets – This size is in between even the largest cell phones and a full tablet. If it weren’t for the fact that at this time, no true cell phone has this form factor, I would say it’s the one to rule them all. If they had a cell phone of this size that could still accept regular voice calls and text messages, you wouldn’t need anything else (except maybe a DS!). If you’re only getting one device this could be a good compromise between portability and screen real estate, but if you already have a cell phone with a large screen, you’ll probably find it isn’t bigger enough to feel advantageous as a second device. Which brings us to…
Large (~10″) tablets – What a full sized tablet lacks in being discreet, it makes up for in comfort. This fact especially shines in areas such as watching videos or reading text, particularly with websites that are not formatted for mobile devices. (While it is great to use something like Anki with nice big text, I admit it’s more effective to use that on a more pocket sized device, doing a few card throughout the day, here there and everywhere.) Personally, my 10″ tablet is also meant to be a substitute for my laptop when away from home, so the large size plays a bigger role (pun intended!).
Conclusion - I tend to use my phone more for some things, and my tablet more for others, although I have both set up for everything. Here’s my typical usage for each device when it comes to Japanese:
- Phone - Anki, music, games (basically things that I want to be able to do anywhere and everywhere)
- Tablet - Video, websites, comics, eReader (basically things that I want to be able to sit back on the couch to do)
If you can only select one device, I would probably say go with a smartphone if you can foot the bill, or a smaller tablet if you’d rather not pay for data usage. If you can get both though, definitely do a smartphone + large tablet. Whatever your choice is, you will certainly be happy using it in your Japanese learning adventures!
A bit of advice for getting the most of your device when, especially when on the move!
This method works for mobile devices too!
- Always bring your charger with you. It’s too easy to forget and then suddenly be on low battery when a good opportunity to use it comes up!
- In extreme situations you can even get a second/extended life battery to be really sure the action never stops!
- A protective case is a must. Rubberized ones are the best in my opinion. These devices aren’t cheap, but the cases are, so protect your investment!
Thank you for reading! I hope that getting on board with a mobile device will revolutionize your Japanese learning just like it has done to mine!